The Islamist group Hamas began ceding control of the Gaza Strip's border crossings with Israel and Egypt to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday under an agreement brokered by Cairo to end a decade of internal schism.
The move marked the most concrete implementation of the Oct. 11 reconciliation deal that Palestinians hope will ease economic restrictions on Gaza and enable more fruitful negotiations on their goal of setting up an independent state.
Witnesses said that employees from Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA) moved into Erez and Karam Abu Salem crossings on the Israeli border and Rafah crossing on the Egyptian border, as Hamas counterparts packed up equipment and departed on trucks.
At Rafah, large murals of Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi decorated the entrances to the passport hall and Palestinian and Egyptian flags flew over the compound.
Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods at its crossings with the Gaza Strip, including an almost blanket ban on exports from the territory.
Ministers from the Abbas-backed government of national consensus have begun gradually to assume their duties in Gaza in past weeks and on Tuesday took over the revenue accounts of the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossings, officials said.
Hamas had used those revenues - taxes and fees collected from merchants and passengers - as part of its Gaza budget, to pay salaries of the 40,000 to 50,000 employees it has hired since 2007. Those wages will now be paid by the PA, under the Cairo agreement..
The Palestinian Authority will begin operating the Erez and Karam Abu Salem crossings immediately, officials said, while in Rafah the operation will await further security arrangements such as deploying a force from Abbas's presidential guards and Cairo completing innovations on its side of the facility.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online.